What players should you look out for during the 2015 World Cup? Rugby World selects a player from each of the 20 teams
With 31 men in each of the 20 World Cup squads, there are a total of 620 players taking part in this autumn’s tournament – that’s a lot of names! Rugby World has made things a little easier by picking ‘one to watch’ from each of the competing nations – there are rising stars, established figures and plenty of interesting tales. Check out who we’ve selected…
A giant of a man at 6ft 8in and 22st, Will Skelton is hard to stop when he builds up a head of steam. The 23-year-old lock has been working on his conditioning to prove he can use his bulk as effectively as a starter as he can from the bench, but even if he’s more of an impact player at this World Cup he’s sure to do some damage.
Henry Slade’s promise was clear to see throughout the 2014-15 season, and he was duly named Young Player of the Year at both the RPA and Aviva Premiership awards. The 22-year-old’s ability to play fly-half, centre and full-back makes him an ideal RWC squad member and he could be even more integral to the England team come 2019.
With six tries in ten Top 14 games last season, Peceli Yato has a scoring record any winger would be proud of. As it happens, though, he plays in the back row for Clermont! The 22-year-old, who made his Test debut in July, has the power and size (6ft 5in and 16st 7lb) to break at least the first tackle. Big things are expected.
Joaquin Prada has fast become the fashionable choice in Uruguay’s midfield. Playing 25 games since his Test debut in June 2013, the 24-year-old has built up plenty of Test experience at outside-centre and scored one of the tries in the crucial play-off win over Russia. The amateur’s gliding running style and ability to get on the outside of defenders could catch the eye during RWC 2015.
Able to play anywhere in the back three, Hallam Amos has risen to prominence after a stellar season at the Dragons, making more metres (605) in the Challenge Cup than any other player and earning a WRU dual contract. The medical student, 20, is rated by the Wales bosses for his versatility, intelligence and line-breaking power.
He may not be quite as hyped as other Japanese wings but livewire 23-year-old Kenki Fukuoka is worth watching. Speedy and curious enough to come off his wing, he darted through for two scores with his first two touches in Test rugby. He has also beaten Wales and scored a brace against Scotland.
Tim Nanai-Williams represented New Zealand at sevens level but last season used the loophole opened up by rugby’s inclusion in the Olympics to become eligible for Samoa, birthplace of his parents, by playing for the islanders on the HSBC Sevens World Series. While his slight frame isn’t going to frighten opponents, his footwork and running ability will.
In a short space of time young Finn Russell has risen through the ranks to be the man who gets Scotland shifting, despite only a few seasons as a full-time pro. Blessed with an array of kicking talents and a willingness to run when space opens up, Russell has the swagger you want in a young fly-half.
Having played most of his rugby at full-back, Jesse Kriel was thrust into the outside-centre berth by South Africa this summer and handled the switch with aplomb. The 21-year-old, whose twin brother also plays for the Bulls, beat three defenders to score on his Test debut against Australia. Heyneke Meyer says: “I think he can become one of the greats and he is one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached.”
A product of Blackrock College in Dublin, AJ MacGinty headed to the US after university on a one-year visa but ended up staying when he started working as a coach. He caught the eye for his playing ability too – Mike Tolkin describes him as “really sharp” – and having qualified on residency the fly-half made his Eagles debut this year. Expect to see him in the No 10 shirt during the World Cup.
Tomás Lavanini is an enormous lock who is not only comfortable at Test level but also made himself an automatic pick for Racing as they hunted the Top 14 play-offs. At 22 he’s not well known yet, but is part of a new generation of Pumas who will redefine the team once a few older dogs call it a day post-2015.
Vasil Lobzhanidze could become the youngest RWC player ever this autumn as he’s still 18. The scrum-half played in five Tests in this year’s European Nations Cup and then helped Georgia U20 win the World Rugby Trophy for the first time. Even the coaches have been amazed at how well the teenager has performed, with Milton Haig saying: “He’s absolutely a star.”
A newcomer to Test rugby, Russel van Wyk made his debut on the wing against Spain in June and was Man of the Match in the first game of the Russia series the following month after scoring a brace of tries. The 25-year-old, who has also represented Namibia in athletics, has been praised by Phil Davies for his “world-class pace”.
He only made the No 2 jersey his own last year but 28-year-old Dane Coles could still be wearing it come RWC 2019. The Hurricanes hooker has always been a dynamic player, as happy in wide spaces as the tight quarters, and having bulked up in recent seasons his scrummaging has improved too. Just as well given the tough packs in Pool C.
Fetu’u Vainikolo will be familiar to UK audiences given his stints at Connacht and Exeter after leaving the Highlanders. At 30, he’s clearly not a new kid on the block, but with 14 tries in his first 22 Tests there is no doubting the winger’s attacking threat. Expect to see him in the thick of the action for Tonga before he joins up with Top 14 side Oyonnax post-World Cup.
As the best player in Canada’s sevens team, John Moonlight is sure to put his great engine to good use when playing in the back row at the World Cup. His speed, power and leadership skills will be even more crucial next July as Canada bid to secure a place at Rio 2016 by playing in the world repêchage sevens event.
There is a strong argument to suggest he shouldn’t be at the World Cup after a vicious stamp against Bordeaux, but there’s no doubting Yoann Huget is one of France’s most dangerous players. At 6ft 3in and nearly 16st, the Toulouse wing is difficult to stop from close range, but he also has the pace to glide or step outside a man. He could wreak havoc.
The assurance shown by Robbie Henshaw in midfield means Brian O’Driscoll’s absence has not been keenly felt. The Connacht No 12 is watertight in defence, has safe hands in attack and game intelligence. Picking Conor Murray’s kick out of the skies to score against England will have been a highlight for him.
Michele Campagnaro has been quiet since he burst onto the scene in the Six Nations a few seasons back – being injured will do that for you. But the 22-year-old centre has no problem with pinning his ears back and having a go, and in his first World Cup he could catch us on our back heels. Exeter fans will enjoy watching their new signing.
Sabin Stratila may be second-choice full-back behind Catalin Fercu but he has the skills to be wearing Romania’s No 15 shirt when the 2019 World Cup kicks off. He’s come through the age groups, played sevens and won his first cap against Germany in March, although he needs to play overseas if he’s to reach his full potential.
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